Cases of sexual abuse of women go unreported in BankeThe cases of sexual abuse are weak and the accused are usually let free because the victims withdraw their complaints on their own accord or under pressure from family, police say.
Two years ago, the then 17-year-old girl approached the District Police Women and Children Service Centre in Banke with a complaint against her cousin who she said was making inappropriate advances towards her. The girl alleged that the man under the pretext of being family took advantage of her sexually.
But when the accused was brought to the police, he outright denied any wrongdoing. He said he was only teasing the girl and since she was his cousin, it was not a big deal, said Shyam Kumari Thapa, the then chief at the centre.
“The man insisted that he had done no wrong, that he was only fooling around with his cousin,” said Thapa. “But when a man as much as looks at a woman in a way that makes the woman uncomfortable is punishable by law. But this man was adamant that he had done no wrong in making advances at his cousin,” she said.
The victim persisted in her allegations but soon had to withdraw her complaint under immense family pressure. “Her family didn’t understand what she was going through. They put pressure on her to withdraw her complaint and to not register a police case against her cousin to save the man from disgrace,” said Thapa.
Thapa says she was determined to proceed with the case but she was not successful. “We were unable to help the victim. How could we have when she changed her statement albeit under coercion?” said Thapa. “Under our existing laws, any act of touching, looking, speaking with sexual undertones is categorised as sexual abuse. The perpetrator can be jailed between a minimum of three months and a maximum three years based on the nature of such cases,” she said. But in this case, law enforcement could not take action since the victim withdrew her verbal complaint and refused to register a formal complaint against her cousin. “They went for an out-of-court settlement. This is not a solitary case where women are forced to retract their complaints against their perpetrators by their family.”
A few weeks ago, the chief administrative officer and accounts officer of Khajura Rural Municipality in Banke were accused of sexually abusing a female employee. It was reported that the duo sexually abused the female employee, who is in her mid-thirties, while on a picnic at Tikapur in Kailali. The victim, a medical doctor by profession, informed police verbally about the abuse but later withdrew her complaint. “The victim signed an agreement with the accused to settle the case. She did not register a written complaint against her abusers so we could not take any action,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police in Banke Madhu Sudan Neupane.
The alleged sexual abuse of the woman came to the public’s notice five days after the incident when some women picketed the rural municipality office, demanding legal action against the accused.
According to police, the cases of sexual abuse are weak and the accused are usually let free because the victims withdraw their complaints on their own accord or under pressure from family.
Ekmaya BK, the vice-chairman of Khajura Rural Municipality, who is also the coordinator of the judicial committee at the local level, says most cases of sexual abuse and violence against women end up getting closed since the complainants reach a compromise with the accused.
According to human rights advocate Basanta Gautam, any sort of sexual abuse warrants the case to be registered as a criminal case. “There is no law to “settle” such cases once they are registered with the police,” said Gautam. “But in most cases, the victims of sexual abuse are forced to settle the cases before the legal procedure begins. That is why so many cases of sexual abuse go unreported,” he said.
According to Dilsara Rana, the chief at the woman cell of the District Police Office in Banke, around 90 percent of cases involving sexual abuse of women end in “agreement” between the victims and accused. “The perpetrators do not face legal action as the victims do not file a police complaint against them. Even when the victims have filed a verbal complaint, they do not follow it up with a written one due to pressures from the family and society,” said Rana.
Three years ago, the ward chairman of Nepalgunj Sub-metropolitan City-8 harassed a Banke-based female journalist, who is in her late 30s, by posting profane posts on social media. The victim, who asked for anonymity since she does not want to relive the experience in retrospect, was mentally stressed. She informed the police but her husband, who is a political leader, asked her to not register a complaint against the ward chair. “Even rights activists and our neighbours urged me to not file a case with the police. The ward chair apologised to me and I was under pressure to accept it,” she said.
“Only 10 percent cases of sexual abuse are reported. In 90 percent of cases, the victims approach us and lodge verbal complaints but they retract their statement and do not lodge a formal complaint with the police,” said Rana, chief at the woman cell of the District Police Office. “This happens mostly under duress from family and community,” she said.